I don't blame you for getting excited about the Cowboys' drafting of quarterback Dak Prescott. It had been seven years since the Cowboys spent any draft pick on the position, going back to Stephen McGee in 2009. With rising concern about Tony Romo's longevity, any addition of new talent at quarterback was a welcome sight.
However, we really need to check our enthusiasm. Like McGee before him, Prescott is just a fourth-round pick. You go back 20 years and see that most fourth-round quarterbacks don't end up any better than McGee did. Those that do hardly became franchise players; mostly career backups and just a couple of decent starters.
The majority end up out of the league in just a few years, many never earning a second contract and some never even seeing the end of their rookie deal. Here's a look at every fourth-round quarterback taken from 1996-2012:
|1999 – Aaron Brooks
2002 – David Garrard
2005 – Kyle Orton
2012 – Kirk Cousins
|1996 – Danny Kanell
1997 – Danny Wuerffel
2001 – Sage Rosenfels
2001 – Chris Weinke
2003 – Seneca Wallace
2004 – Luke McCown
|1996 – Jeff Lewis
1997 – Pat Barnes
1999 – Joe Germaine
2001 – Jesse Palmer
2002 – Rohan Davey
2005 – Stefan LeFors
2009 – Stephen McGee
2010 – Mike Kafka
It's a little early to label the guys taken after 2012, since many of them have yet to ever hit free agency or get much opportunity to develop. However, this list is hardly inspiring: Tom Savage. Logan Thomas, Landry Jones, Tyler Wilson, Ryan Nassib, Matt Barkley, and Bryce Petty. I don't see too many Pro Bowl coming out of that group. Hell, I'll be surprised if any of them ever earn starting jobs.
Even if Prescott manages to be a rare fourth-round success, check out those four guys again. Would you really want any of them as your starting quarterback? Brooks and Orton had solid years but plenty of weaknesses. Garrard was the best of the group and even made a Pro Bowl, but he was hardly an elite player. As for Cousins, Washington was too scared to commit long-term and gave him the franchise tag.
I know what you're thinking; “Where a guy gets drafted doesn't matter! Anyone has a chance to become a star!”
You're absolutely right, of course. We live in a post-Tom Brady and Tony Romo world that allows for you to dream about a quarterback's potential regardless of where he was drafted, or if he was even drafted at all. But nevertheless, let's not delude ourselves.
The “chance” of a rookie quarterback becoming a star, as proven over decades of drafting, drops with every round. Even though they can certainly be wrong at times, scouts ultimately know what they're doing and guys get drafted high or low based on their perceived talent and potential. Some may slip through the cracks, but that table above shows you just how spot-on the scouts usually are.
That's why we have to measure our expectations. If Prescott becomes a solid career backup then he's already done better than the majority of fourth-round quarterbacks. Anything beyond that puts him in rare company.
If he's the next in line from Staubach to Aikman to Romo, then that means he's the best fourth-round quarterback since at least Rich Gannon in 1987 or even Joe Theismann in 1971.
In other words, don't hold your breath.